It's been eight and a half years since Nintendo first unleashed their Pokémon on America's unsuspecting border, and after all that time gamers still haven't caught 'em all. Nintendo hasn't made it easy, either. Their upcoming titles, Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, have set the number of collectible Pokémon at a staggering 492. That's a lot of Pokéballs.
"The game seems to be lacking the 'Physically Beat Pokémon Into Submission With a Stick' feature I've been petitioning for, but I guess Nintendo knows what's best."
This latest addition to the Pokémon franchise takes place in a land called Sinnoh. Players are given the choice between a male and female protagonist, and the unselected character becomes one of the two main rivals that will attempt to best you along the way. The game starts in Twinleaf Town, where the main character hears of trouble at a far-away lake. He or she decides to check up on their own local lake, one thing leads to another and the hero/heroine is presented with three Pokémon: Turtwig (Turtle-like Grass-type), Chimchar (Chimp-like Fire-type) or Piplup (Penguin-like Water-type). Thus, your adventure begins.
The art of Pokémon training has evolved only slightly since its beginning. You still use Pokémon that you've captured to battle other trainers or Pokémon in the wild. The game seems to be lacking the 'Physically Beat Pokémon Into Submission With a Stick' feature I've been petitioning for, but I guess Nintendo knows what's best. The DS's touch screen has been turned into the centerpiece for battling, though. Before each turn four buttons appear that represent 'Fight,' 'Bag,' 'Run,' and 'Pokémon' the last option being for switching out the active creature. The 'Fight' button is almost six times as big as the others, sending a clear message to wishy-washy trainers as well as being easy to tap with a finger nail or some other, non-stylus item. Once 'Fight' is selected the Pokémon's four abilities are displayed, each bordered by a color that represents the elemental type.
Diamond/Pearl is seeming to take the best aspects from the game's forerunners and weed out any features that didn't work. Returning to Diamond/Pearl are secret bases that players can decorate with sweet loot, a five-part day/night system, differing sexes for Pokémon with different sprites for some males and females, and Pokémon contests. The contests are a bit more elaborate this time around, with the ability to place accessories on your Pokémon to augment a particular trait such as 'Cute' or 'Cool' with the stylus, a new portion of the contest called the Dance Judgment round where Pokémon show off their rhythm and 'get served,' as well as the returning Performance Judgment trail where Pokémon use their abilities to wow judges. The Pokédex has gotten a sidekick with the introduction of the Pokétch, a multi-purpose watch-like tool that comes equipped with a calculator, a map, a counter, a drawing pad, a time management system, and a wireless link up search.
Those last four words should have triggered a few alarms. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl utilizes the Nintendo WiFi system to let you link up with people half a world away via the use of friend codes. No longer are players limited to the length of a Game Boy Link Cable to trade Pokémon or battle. And no longer are players limited to just trading and battling with their friends, either. Below Sinnoh is a massive underground area used for multiplayer minigames. In fact, three Pokémon can only be obtained by experimenting in the underground with friends.
When it comes to trading, players can search for any Pokémon that they have seen, see a list of the players who have that Pokémon as well as which Pokémon that player wants in return for it. This uses the WiFi's weakness of collaboration to its advantage, as trades do not have to be instant and the set up remains even while the player is offline. Think of it as shopping for Pokémon, where other Pokémon are the currency.
Pokémon graphics have steadily increased since Red/Blue, culminating in Diamond/Pearl's beautiful design. The world map is in what seems to be 2.5D, meaning that all sprites are 3D but limited on a 2D plane. The colors are vibrant and bring life to region of Sinnoh, making for a place that should be pleasing to spend dozens of hours in while you hunt for each of the 492 Pokémon.
Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl are both slated to be released in North America later this month, on April 22.